I've never seen so much art under one roof
That's often the reaction of first-time visitors to Royal Academy (RA) of Art's Summer Exhibition.
Forget giving art room to breathe, this is floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall art overload — more than 1,500 pieces, if you want to put a number to it. The works of Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin rub shoulders with artists you've never heard of and to be frank, if you can't find something you love in here, contemporary art probably isn't for you.
It's impossible to spend quality time with every work, so, like your own personal tour guide, we've picked a few highlights you should keep an eye out for. You're welcome.
1. Intimidating entry
Normally the statue of Joshua Reynolds — the RA's first president — commands the central courtyard. But right now, he's overshadowed by Thomas Houseago's rather ghoulish humanoid sculptures. You don't need a ticket to check them out —wander into the courtyard for free — but you may pay the price in nightmares later.
2. The animal kingdom
The first room of the exhibition contains animal-themed art. Although it has a long history, art featuring the animal world is seen as very unfashionable in contemporary art circles, positioning this room as something of an up yours to those who think such artworks should be consigned to the past. The highlight is David Mach's tiger, fashioned from M&S wrappers. We challenge you to look at it and not hear a sultry voice muttering "this isn't just any tiger... it's an M&S tiger". It's the best advert for the store we've seen yet, and you can expect to see it all over Instagram.
3. Banksy's back
Banksy was in last year's show and he's back again, this time with shutters telling arrivals from the EU to keep out. Banksy's rat makes a futile attempt to smash the lock. It's amusing, but also very raw given the whole Brexit debacle shows no signs of ending. Not to be outdone in the Brexit stakes, Jeremy Deller has a banner hanging from the ceiling in a nearby gallery declaring that 'we're all immigrant scum'. Yes, yes we are — and proud of it too.
4. Climate emergency
New for 2019 is a room dedicated to art that's about the environment. Given that we've declared a climate emergency, it's too right that art should be dealing with the challenge facing the planet. Gaze at floating log booms from a Nigerian saw mill, photographed by Edward Burtynsky, and soak in the devastating impact that mass production is having on the planet.
5. Let's get meta
When an artwork sells it gets a red dot. If there are multiple editions of the work, there can be multiple red dots. Sometimes just the sight of a red dot begets more red dots, as it gives the work a validation that encourages other buyers. Artist Cornelia Parker has fun with this concept, using a blank image surrounded by red dots to encourage buyers. She started this back in 2013 and now nests previous years' versions within a new frame so the red dots keep building up. Looking at all those dots, it makes us want to buy one too.
6. Don't forget the little guys
Yes, there are big names like Antony Gormley and Frank Bowling on show, but let's not forget the hundreds of young artists you may not have come across before. What an opportunity it is for them to be shown in such a prestigious venue — and what an opportunity for you, to buy an artwork at a more affordable price. My highlights include a dark deserted staircase by Suzanne Moxhay, and a sea of faces crossing Waterloo Bridge by Carl Randall. Of course, my inclusion of the latter has nothing to do with the fact that I happen to be one of those faces...
7. And relax
Once all the art gets too much and you can't absorb anything more — a phenomenon we like to call 'art blindness' — head to the dimly-lit Small Weston Room and camp out in front of the colourful work by James Turrell. The diamond cut out of the wall appears to be solid and the illusion is so convincing that our smartphone camera couldn't focus on it. It's the perfect end to another stellar edition of the Summer Exhibition.
Summer Exhibition 2019 is on at Royal Academy of Arts from 10 June to 12 August. Tickets are £18. If you want to see the works that didn't make the cut there's a show of 100 such works at Camden Image Gallery from 12-15 June.